Just what does it take to be the best? What is the hidden logic of success that shapes the careers of world-beaters like David Beckham and Serena Williams, and creative successes like Mozart and Picasso?
According to many experts including author and former international table tennis star Matthew Syed, the amount of hours practice to become an ‘expert’ exceeds 10,000 hours. So for those that want that in days, weeks and the freaks who want in minutes, that’s 416.7 days, 59.52 weeks and 600,000 minutes of continuous practice.
Matthew Syed comes from a sporting background and makes his reflections based on the sporting world. There is an argument that actually some of the ‘best’ sports people in the world aren’t actually the most talented.
One of the stories he uses to back this theory up is the story of Venus and Serena Williams. The tennis superstars father was sat at home watching a tennis match on TV and saw the eventual winner being handed a very large winners cheque. He actually sat there and wondered whether he and his wife could ‘create’ a tennis superstar. Well…lets be fair they created two. With no discernible talent in the Williams family for tennis this was going to be a long shot, but as early as they could hold a racket he introduced them to playing and practicing. Here’s the the thing though…as much as this was going to be a hard regime to initially achieve a fathers almost questionable dream, the sisters have often said they were at their happiest when they practiced. How is that possible? Were they born with the talent? No. But did they enjoy what they were doing? They say as much. So as they clocked up the hours and hours of practice with coaches they got better and better.
Which leaves a question…were they born with that talent or was it the thousands hours of practice that got them through? Or was it ‘Purposeful Practice’? For purposeful practice, motivation and dedication are not enough. You also need access to the RIGHT type of education, training and coaching and that sometimes means traveling to the right town or having access to the right coach.
For the early years of Syed’s career he had access to a top British coach but then as he got older he access to Chen Zinwai, who bought multi ball training from China which was a significant advantage not accessible to everyone. In effect his career was guided by purposeful practice from day 1. When things like this are in place, learning takes place, knowledge increases and results take off. You are on the path to excellence and personal transformation. Literally.
One of the most significant things found by modern research is how the mind and body can be radically altered by practice. When the human body is put under pressure, the cells in our body react in wondrous ways and over time the cells of the body reorganise to the demands of the body. As an example runners have larger hearts than those that don’t run at all. It’s not because they were born with them, but as result of the training they do regularly. Tennis players have more supple wrists. Cricketers faster reactions; secretaries have more flexible fingers and ballerinas feet can rotate more degrees. But whilst that’s impressive it the plasticity of the brain that is far more remarkable.
In an experiment led by Thomas Constance a professor from Germany, it was found the part of the brain that was in control of young musicians fingers, grew in proportion to the number of years of training. Further studies have proved that theory. In a study of London cabbies, who must pass stringent tests to get a licence, it was actually found that the part of the brain that judges spacial awareness was significantly larger than no-taxi drivers. (Don’t shoot me if you think your cabbie doesn’t display that by the way!) But that region significantly grew with more time on the job.
So research seems to show the better you are, the more knowledge and experience you have deeply encoded in the brain you have. It’s almost like the more software you download, the more it changes and improves your hardware. Your brain goes from a Pentium 1 processor to a Pentium 7. But you can only do this with purposeful practise. But does this just work in sport?
As an example when people learn to type they get to certain level and then plateau. Why? Well it’s called automaticity, which really means, they are doing enough to get by. When amateur golfers go to play golf, they’ll get on the driving range, bash a bucket of balls and go on to the first tee thinking they’ve practiced. Wrong. It’s far easier to smash some balls and then practice, your chipping and putting that you might not be as good at. It’s easier and more fun. Superstar Tiger Woods presses golf balls into the sand pits with his foot and then practices hitting the ball out of the bunker and on to the green. Why? Because it’s not easy, that’s why.
And here is the magic part of purposeful practice…the feedback loop. he won’t just hit one ball…he’ll hit 30, 40, 50 ,60 from the same place? Why because he views it as an integral part of the training. Top performers look at how they hold the club, their stance, their position, etc…
Others don’t. It’s more fun and human nature to do what you want to do, rather than practise what you don’t want. The only problem is it won’t lower your handicap. Fact. So much are you willing to pay for the success you desire?
Let’s go back to the typist. Imagine if they were typing at 70 words per minute and then were given meaningful practice over a consistent amount of time. They would see a significant increase in their performance. In one experiment some saw they began to make adaptations and exceeded 100 words per minute, they became that flexible and confident. That’s the thing about purposeful practice it can be transformational. So why don’t we do this in all aspects of business?
It is often said that the limit of human achievement will run it’s course. We will bump our heads against how fast we can run. There is no way we can be so quick as to finish the 100m’s before the gun has finished making a noise. That’s the basic laws of maths, physics and anatomy dictate we can’t keep getting faster and faster. Whilst this maybe true of simple tasks, what about complex ones that can be done day in and day out? If you go back many years trying to work out algebra, people struggled, but now kids a s young s 12, get it. Is it because they are smarter? No, it’s just that ways of teaching and the system used has got simpler and smarter. It’s part of a paradigm shift in innovation and practice. It was seen that some one who could hold a musical note for 60 seconds was the main man, but then American saxophonist Kenny G, came up with an innovative way of breathing and held a note for 45 minutes…yes 45 minutes!!!
So many of the examples that have been given here are not business related, but beneficial to the individuals themselves. As we enter 2017, imagine what Purposeful Practice, Training and Coaching could do for you, your business and your team….
The possibilities are endless and remarkable…